Helping Preserve Our Treasured History with Wood

Wood, collected from a fallen Witness Tree, removed during renovations or repairs at Historic Sites, or seen on many heavily used and aged relics from eras gone by, many times objects of historic interest like these are looked at by others as debris, or refuse, and are sent to the local landfill, or they are destroyed in other ways because they are past their usefulness. Some people just don’t see the value in objects like these. At Shenandoah Arsenal Pens, we know that historic wood is a limited resource that has great historic and significant cultural value that should be saved, and preserved in some way.

Shenandoah Arsenal Pens takes great care in the creation of all it’s works, treating the wood I’m so lucky to have access to with all the respect that this historic treasure deserves. I take great pride in turning materials that were once part of the natural world, and perhaps also used as a tool or as part of a man made structure, and then reusing those materials that nature has provided to create something new and useful that anyone can cherish, and admire.

It was once said that “History teaches us to hope.” I hope my turnings and creations can help you learn just a little bit more about American history, and if you choose, you can pass on that knowledge to others.



White Oak Witness Tree – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Taken Down in 2004

Tree Coordinates: 39.79334329591599, -77.25490793937728

The Longstreet Tree in winter before nature claimed in by storm. Pictured in the background is the Snyder Farmhouse on Confederate Ave. General Longstreet’s men massed for an attack near here.​



Sycamore Witness Tree – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Tree Coordinates: 39.825126443485, -77.23091411481053

Located at Alumni Park near the intersection of Baltimore Street and Lefevre Street.

One of the three Sycamore Trees that grew on Baltimore Street. Abraham Lincoln passed beneath this tree on November 19, 1863 as he rode to Cemetery Hill to give his Gettysburg Address. Lincoln and the rest of the procession would have been traveling from north to south. This tree also witnessed the Union retreat through the town the afternoon of July 1st, the Confederate attack on East Cemetery Hill, the evening of July 2nd, and constant skirmishing between both armies on all three days of the battle.



White Ash Witness Tree – Mercersburg Junction, Pennsylvania, Taken Down in 2020

Tree Coordinates: 39.85881257627402, -77.88692967319602

October 10, 1862 Witness to Raid on Mercersburg, and passing of Stuart’s forces, known as the Chambersburg Raid​

Craig Hoffeditz of Sage Court Farm cut down tree on his family farm in early December of 2020, after Emerald Ash Borer had killed the tree. Craig collected and gave 2 large limbs of wood to Shenandoah Arsenal Turning 12/20, Wood is Spalted throughout​.



White Oak Witness Tree – Grottoes, Virginia, Taken Down in 2011

Tree Coordinates: approx 38.26497053275944, -78.84840244155208

General Stonewall Jackson stopped to pray under this massive white oak tree following the end of his Shenandoah Valley Campaign, in May and June of 1862, during the civil war…..Thus the tree became known as the Stonewall Jackson Prayer Tree.

Between June 12-17, General Jackson and some 15,000 men encamped between Middle and South Rivers, where they also gathered for prayer under this tree.

The estimated 350 year old tree stood proudly at the edge of a farm field near Mt. Meridian in Augusta County, Grottoes, Virginia, owned by Warren E. (deceased) and Catherine M. Wilkerson now descended to Donna (Wilkerson) Miller and her husband Kenny.

The disease weakened historical oak was brought down by high winds on May 27, 2011. The wood was donated by the family to preserve the historical significance of the tree.



Red Cedar Tree – Vicksburg, Mississippi, collected in 2019

Tree Coordinates: approx. 32.21937598595488, -90.89013498309366

Connected to US 2nd WI Cav Regt, who used the Church as their HQ, the Company was raised in Milwaukee, WI​​.

On the Confederate side they faced C.S. “Wirt Adams” Cavalry Regt., but the unit was defeated at Red Bone​.




A Cutting from the Daniel Schaefer Farm House’s Maple Wood Witness Floorboards – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Farmhouse Coordinates: 39.79437870384062, -77.1964254053906

The DANIEL SHEAFFER FARM remains a prominent Gettysburg landmark whose original property was a 300+ acre land grant from William Penn, first surveyed in 1763, and referred to as ‘Wolf’s Walk’. There was, at one time, an Indian camp on the property S.W. of where the main house was later built. The house (the first brick house in Adams County) was built in c.1780-81 and was originally used as a tavern ‘under the Sign of George Washington’ from 1808-1815.

During this period the green in front of the house was used as a site for military muster and drills and in the 1840’s the house was used as a place for abolitionist meetings, and as a stop on the Underground Railway for slaves fleeing from neighboring Maryland, only a few miles away.

At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the property was owned by Daniel Sheaffer and his wife and consisted of the brick house, several outbuildings and a sawmill located on White Run Creek. Occupied by a portion of the III and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac, with baggage trains resting in the fields, Gregg’s Cavalry Division camped on the farm on July 2nd and Reserve Artillery occupied the fields S.W. of the house. Nearly 3,000 Rebel prisoners, many taken during the famous ‘Pickett’s Charge’ were kept on the property southwest of the house, near the stream.

When the wounded began to arrive, the Sheaffers were asked to leave. The surgeons performed amputations on every available surface and the piles of severed limbs grew outside, holes were drilled in the planking of the floors on the downstairs level so that the blood could be washed into the cellar.



A Cutting from the Elmira Prison Wooden Witness Timbers – Originally used as part of the wooden structure at Camp Rathbun, Elmira, New York

Prison GPS Coordinates: 42.11083247645348, -76.82748086036717

The Prison was dismantled and the timbers were used to build at least four residential homes in Elmira, one of which provided our sample.​​ The home built with the Elmira Prison timbers from this sample is located at 630 West Gray Street, Elmira, New York and it was built between 1866 and 1868​.

House GPS Coordinates: 42.08520069122148, -76.821444732024

12,123 confederate soldiers were incarcerated at Elmira, and more than 25% died there. Originally known as Camp Rathbun, and designated Camp No. 3 during its existence from summer 1864 until the end of the war, this camp housed approximately 12,000 Confederate enlisted men. Approximately 3,000 men died here. Today a National Cemetery marks the location of the former prison.



Red Clay Witness Brick from Libby Prison, once located in Richmond, Virginia, disassembled for parts in 1889.

Original Prison Coordinates: 37.5308375282109, -77.42674875471006

“What do we want with bricks?”

The receptionist at the Pet Rescue was probably quite confused when a retired Chicago Police Officer stopped by one day and dropped off a crate of old dirty bricks!

The story of how this brick got into private hands is quite impressive!

The bricks had been relocated to Chicago, Illinois, and placed under the 2nd Chicago Coliseum in the 1890’s, and many years later in 1971, a few were nearly discarded by a maintenance worker when an old brick wall was damaged by an big out of control Pontiac, leaving a large hole that he needed to patch up.

Former Coliseum Site Coordinates: 41.86190789453742, -87.62517937522094

A few of the unbroken bricks were removed from the site and saved by Daniel Sullivan, a Chicago Police Officer, for his personal use. He was building a backyard barbeque. According to the amused maintenance worker who was a caretaker at the site, the bricks the officer was cherry-picking out of the pile of debris for his barbeque, they had come from the “…last standing rear wall of the Libby Prison”

After sitting in his mother’s garage for 43 years, the bricks, after luckily never being used in a barbeque, were donated to support a Chicago Animal Rescue by Mr. Sullivan. In 2015, they were sold in a public fundraiser by the Rescue.

The history of the Prison is just as impressive, but in a horrible way!

Libby Prison was a Confederate prison at Richmond, Virginia, during the American Civil War. It was a building three stories high in front and four in the rear, containing six rooms (excluding the cellar), each about 105 by 45 feet. Before the Civil War it was used by its owner, a Mr. Libby, as a tobacco warehouse. It was first used as a prison after the first battle of Bull Run, and continued to be thus used until the close of the war. At times as many as 1,200 prisoners were confined there, most of them being Federal officers. The Confederate officers in immediate charge were Major Thomas P. Turner, commander, and Richard Turner, inspector.

Soon after it opened, it gained a reputation for the overcrowded and harsh conditions under which officer prisoners from the Union Army were kept. The prisoners suffered terribly from starvation, cold, and other causes, and many died or had their health permanently shattered while in confinement. Their guards also struggled with controlling such a large prison population.

Many attempts at escape were made, the most famous being that of February 9, 1864, when 109 prisoners made their exit through a tunnel 50 feet in length, which had been laboriously excavated by a small party of men under Col. Thomas E. Rose. Of the 109, 48 were recaptured, 2 were accidentally drowned, and 59 reached the Federal lines. By March of 1864, Confederate officials have begun transferring most of the inmates to prisons further South. After the fall of Richmond on April 2, 1865, some former Confederate officials become the new inmates at Libby.

In April 1865, Lincoln visited Richmond and toured the city by foot. When he came across the Libby, a shout came from a crowd of onlookers, “We will tear it down”, to which Lincoln replied, “No, leave it as a monument.”

The prison would remain open on a limited basis until August 3, 1868.

Candy manufacturer Charles F. Gunther purchased the former Libby Prison building in Richmond, Virginia and had it dismantled, and shipped to Chicago on 132 railroad cars. He rebuilt the structure in the Windy City in 1889 as the Libby Prison War Museum at 1513 South Wabash Avenue, which displayed memorabilia from the Civil War. After about a decade, and declining ticket sales, the old prison was torn down again, all except for a castellated wall that became part of the new (Third) Chicago Coliseum at the same address. The preserved part of Libby’s façade led to the misconception that the Coliseum itself had once housed Union prisoners of war.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Coliseum fell into disrepair in the late 1970’s, and by 1990, it was all demolished. The remaining part of the Libby façade was given to the Chicago History Museum.

What remains today at these historic sites? As for the old Libby Prison site in Richmond, well, it’s a parking lot. What’s left at the Coliseum site in Chicago today? You guessed it. It’s also a parking lot.

Makes you think…